If you are a Jewish family, you're probably making plans to celebrate Purim this week. We're not Jewish, but when festive food is involved, then count me in. I have this thing about Jewish feasts and festivals. Actually, I have a strong interest in everything Jewish. I have no idea where this comes from. I've always wished for a Jewish neighbor, who would invite me in to her home and teach me her ways. It would be so interesting.
When I was on my "trip of a lifetime" to the Holy Land, I was as fascinated by the people as I was by the geography and the holy sites we visited. Here, I was able to see for myself how these people of three major religions faithfully live their lives, if not always peacefully, in close proximity to one another.
I asked our tour guide so many questions, he was probably happy when I went home. I wasn't just interested in the tourist sites, I wanted to know about the people, and how they lived their lives. There just wasn't enough time to see and do all my heart desired. If I ever have the chance, I will go back in a heartbeat. I love Israel, and I love their food!
Now, back to Purim. This is the celebration of Esther, that beloved queen from the Old Testament. We all love this story, and the oft quoted verse, "Who knoweth whether though art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?", don't we? Esther, the beautiful queen who showed great courage, thus helping to save her people from genocide. In the ninth chapter of the book of Esther, we can read how the Feast of Purim was instituted as a celebration of this occasion, when God answered the prayers of his faithful people, turning their hearts from sorrow to joy. To celebrate, the people would feast (maybe this is why I love Jewish culture, they do a lot of feasting!) and send portions of food and gifts to the poor.
Today, Jewish people celebrate Purim in much the same way. It is a joyous occasion for families, when they gather together to retell the story of Esther and enjoy delicious food. They also fast the day before Purim, in remembrance of the fasting and prayer by Queen Esther and her people before their victory. On the day of Purim, families listen to the Megillah reading in the morning and the evening. They give food and other acts of charity to those in need. The children dress up as characters in the Esther narrative and as the story is told, the people hiss, boo, stomp their feet and make noise with groggers whenever the name of Haman is mentioned. If you're not familiar with the story, just know that Haman was the "bad guy". A wonderful feast is held with special foods, including a cookie called Hamantaschen. These are triangular shaped buttery delights, that are supposed to represent the shape of Haman's hat. The name actually means Haman's pocket.
The recipe for this cookie is simple, even if the name isn't. I mixed up the dough according to a recipe I found online at Saveur, which I've included at the bottom of the post. The dough holds well in the refrigerator for a few days before baking, which gave me time to mix up the dough on one day and bake on another. This is a good system for busy people.
After letting the dough set at room temperature for a few minutes, I rolled it out and cut it into circles. Then in the center of each circle, I placed about a half teaspoon of fruit filling. I used apricot and strawberry rhubarb preserves. The traditional fruit fillings are prune and poppy seed, but since I have plenty of preserves, I decided to go with what I had. The filling needs to be nice and thick and even though the temptation to place a big drop of filling on each disc is real, don't do it! More is not better in this situation.
There is a proper method to the folding, which I didn't follow. I just pinched the ends tightly together in a triangular shape and it worked! Assembling the cookies would be a great two person job, because the dough softens up quickly and becomes more difficult to work with. I ended up having to put some of the dough back into the fridge to firm up before I could fold the last of the cookies.
Aren't they pretty? And oh, are they tasty! They didn't last long around here. Next time, I think I will double the recipe, so I can share with others. That is part of the Purim tradition, after all.
Doesn't this sound like a great family home evening activity? You could read and tell the story of Esther, letting the children act out the parts and then have Hamantaschen for dessert. Or maybe even watch a movie about Queen Esther. And if all that sounds like too much work, just eat the Hamantaschen!
MAKES ABOUT 2 DOZEN
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup flour
2 tbsp. apricot preserves
2 tbsp. raspberry preserves
1 egg white, beaten
In a bowl, combine cream cheese, butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt, and beat with a mixer until fluffy. Add flour; beat. Form dough into a thin disk. Wrap disk in plastic wrap; chill for 30 minutes.
Transfer dough to a floured surface; roll to a 3⁄16" thickness. Using a 2 1⁄2" round cookie cutter, cut dough into rounds. Reroll scraps; repeat. Transfer the rounds to 2 parchment paper–lined baking sheets. Place about 1⁄2 tsp. apricot preserves in center of half the rounds; place about 1⁄2 tsp. raspberry preserves in the center of remaining rounds. Brush egg white around edges. Fold in edges to form a triangular package, leaving a small opening at the top. Refrigerate filled cookies for 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 350°. Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.
* recipe courtesy of saveur.com